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London statue unveiled honoring Swede who saved Jews

wallenberg February 26, 1997
Web posted at: 8:15 p.m. EST (2015 GMT)

From Correspondent Richard Blystone

LONDON (CNN) -- In an era of mass killers, he was a mass savior.

Without Raoul Wallenberg, as many as 100,000 people would have died at the hands of Nazis during World War II.

And more than a half century after he disappeared at the hands of Soviet troops, Wallenberg was honored Wednesday by no less than Queen Elizabeth II. Watched by Israeli President Ezer Weizman, the British monarch unveiled a monument to Wallenberg, a Swedish diplomat.

monument

Created by British sculpture Philip Jackson, the larger-than-life bronze sculpture is located near Marble Arch in central London, close to a Jewish synagogue and the Swedish embassy.

The ceremony to honor "the epitome of good over evil" was also attended by U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan, whose wife is a niece of Wallenberg, as well as five people who survived the Holocaust, thanks to Wallenberg's bravery.

In a moving speech, Annan said that contemplating the statue had forced him to do some painful soul-searching and ask why Wallenberg took such extraordinary risks -- "and why did so many turn the other way?"

More than a half century after the war, Wallenberg's fate remains a mystery. The Red Army grabbed him in January 1945 because of his alleged links to the U.S.

'The search goes on'

To this day his family refuses to accept that he is dead. "As long as there is no convincing evidence the search goes on," said Nina Lagergen, Wallenberg's half sister.

A member of a family of industrialists and diplomats once dubbed "Sweden's Rockefellers," Wallenberg had traveled freely on business in Nazi-occupied Europe. In 1944 he was chosen to carry out a U.S. project for saving Jews and other targets of Nazism.

Wallenberg was based in Budapest as part of the Swedish delegation. In the final months of the war, he prevented the Nazis from taking thousands of Jews to the death camp at Auschwitz by handing out passes and establishing "safe houses" flying the flag of neutral Sweden.

schutzpass

His weapon: the Schutzpass, a blue and gold pass that certified the bearer was under Swedish protection.

Passed out by the tens of thousands, these documents were enough to defer death for thousands of Jews who otherwise might have been ordered to Nazi death camps.

Wallenberg had many talents, among them mimicry. He could switch from suave diplomat to raging tyrant, to amuse a dinner party -- or bluff and bully German soldiers with a weakness for authority.

lagergen

"He could shout like a German," said Lagergen. "He knew exactly the way they reacted."

"He had an extraordinary force," added Lionel Altman. "He was a very tall, aristocratic looking man. He could speak several languages and his sheer determination and initiatives that he took -- he was very quick on the uptake -- enabled him to see opportunities and exploit them."

Dead-end investigations

Investigations into his whereabouts have failed to discover what became of Wallenberg after his capture by the Russians.

Although Moscow reported Wallenberg died in prison in 1947, there have been several reports he was seen alive after that. He would be 84 if still alive.

There are various rumors and theories on Wallenberg's fate. And no one has explained definitively why he disappeared.

Wallenberg's half-sister blames Russian fear of spying, a suspicion she says that may have been exacerbated by the West's tepid effort to recover him after the war.

Will the Wallenberg mystery ever be solved? Probably not, guesses Eva Wimmer, translator for the missing Swedish diplomat.

"It will remain a mystery," Wimmer said. "But the important thing is we need more Wallenbergs because there are new Nazi movements arising."

 
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